Partner / EMEIA Workforce Advisory Leader / People Advisory Services EY
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HR leadership: five trends for the post-pandemic workplace

While no one has a crystal ball, there are five trends that should be influencing HR leaders' current planning for the post-pandemic workplace.

18th Jun 2020
Partner / EMEIA Workforce Advisory Leader / People Advisory Services EY
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The emergence of Covid-19 and the responses taken by governments across the world have fundamentally changed the way we live and work. The impact continues to be breathtaking, with approximately half of the world’s population either in, or emerging from some form of pandemic lockdown.

As governments across the world start to reopen their economies and work to determine what the ‘new normal’ will look like, however, we know that ‘back to work’ will not just be a case of picking up where we left off. Social distancing protocols, decreased occupancy levels, heightened infection control and cleaning regimes, rotating shifts and many other transmission risk mitigation measures may stay with us for many months in a bid to avoid a resurgence of infections.

People are shifting their values and motivations. Protection is their top priority, whether that’s regarding their family, employees, customers or communities.

This will mean that large parts of the workforce, at least on a rotation basis, will still need to work from home, or at different times, even as workplaces reopen. Some may never return.

A bigger question is, what comes next and beyond? Chief HR officers (CHROs) will be asked to contribute to organisational plans to move forward into an unknown future. No one has a crystal ball, but there are five trends that should be influencing their current thinking.

1. Reinforcing agile execution

Various forms of intermittent lockdowns, or some form of back step from current plans to return to physical workplaces, may be required going forward. Firms will need to instill and reinforce agile execution, better resilience, and flexibility into work arrangements to maintain productivity, irrelevant of how employees have to work. By investing in, and realigning technology, processes, structures and workforce management policies they will create sustainable new ways of working which may become the norm.

2. Empathy, authenticity, and transparency

People are shifting their values and motivations. Protection is their top priority, whether that’s regarding their family, employees, customers or communities. These shifts in values could create permanent behavioural change. Firms should prepare for a workforce that will be looking for more empathy, authenticity and transparency from their leaders, a skill set that leaders need to be able to execute virtually. Mental wellbeing will also become mainstream, and will be built into productivity initiatives. It will influence expectations of duty of care.

3. Greater degrees of remote and flexible work

One positive outcome from forced remote working has been conclusive evidence that flexibility need not come at the expense of productivity. This may have very constructive implications for diversity goals, particularly for those with caring responsibilities. At the same time, the tragic and anxiety-ridden context and forced isolation, has highlighted the importance of regular face-to-face contact. Working out what is preferable, from what is now recognised as possible, will no doubt influence corporate policy and spending decisions post the crisis.

4. Investment in digital HR infrastructure

HR professionals can also expect to see a shift in how they recruit, hire, and retain employees. Many processes have already been digitised to improve speed and efficiency. HR will now be operating virtually throughout the talent lifecycle, however, with new employees joining and working with colleagues without meeting anyone in person, possibly for months. This push – as well as the need to mitigate risk for possible future lockdowns – means that investment in the journey to digital HR will accelerate.

5. Digital labour markets

To date, many governments have only tinkered with labour legislation in response to the rise of the digital age, whilst the underlying conceptual frameworks have remained firmly rooted in a traditional, analogue view of work. This is likely to change, and more fundamental reviews may see labour legislation finally aligning to and facilitating ‘future work’ thinking. Impetus to do so will originate from a combination of the new prevalence of remote working and the unique policy adaptations and workforce initiatives precipitated by this crisis.

While significant time has been spent reacting to the crisis – flexing and adapting to manage a rapidly changing environment – the Covid-19 pandemic has also created the opportunity for businesses to transform and reimagine not only the physical workplace, but also relationships with their people for the years to come.

Taking the longer view when implementing changes now can help accelerate any plans to reimagine the workforce in areas such as talent management, onboarding, recruitment, training, and reskilling. The rules have changed and will continue changing as we learn new lessons amidst the evolving global health and economic emergency.

From a strictly HR and workplace perspective, it could be viewed as an enormous, synchronised organisational experiment. While we cannot predict the outcomes – which of these trends will transpire or dominate, nor which others may emerge – we can be very certain that this will be a time of dramatic innovation. Like everything else, HR will never be the same again. It will be the job of CHROs and their HR teams to ensure that the ‘new normal’ is an improved one, leading to a better working world.

Interested in this topic? Read Leadership: how to prepare your workforce for the post-pandemic future.

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